The wait is over for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, as it earned its first American Le Mans Series P1 championship Saturday night at Petit Le Mans.
Despite an early accident for Lucas Luhr, the team made a valiant effort to repair the HPD ARX-03a and get it back out in order to complete 70 percent of the Petit Le Mans race distance. Luhr and Klaus Graf won a season-high six of 10 races this season, including five in a row from Long Beach through Mid-Ohio.
Greg Pickett's team has finished second in points each of the last two years with two different cars. The team's first full season in 2010, with a Porsche RS Spyder, was just behind Highcroft Racing; last year Dyson Racing took the title in the hands of Guy Smith and Chris Dyson.
Luhr started and was engaged in a close fight with the Rebellion Racing Lola B12/60 Toyota. Luhr took the lead on the first pit stop sequence, after not taking tires. But his slicing and dicing through traffic ended in tears just past the one-hour mark; while some decried the move to the inside of Peter LeSaffre's Green Hornet Racing GTC class Porsche as being overly aggressive at that stage in the race, Luhr attested that you have to go for gap of a similar width hundreds of times over the course of a race.
Either way, he explained his way through the contact.
“I saw the two GTC cars when I was going towards Turn 1,” he said. “I went for the inside, like you do 100 or 1,000 times; unfortunately the one guy didn't see me. I had passed him already and saw him from the back of my eye. I moved all the way to the right. I had two wheels on grass, which was not an issue, but then I got hit on the left rear. I got turned sharp left.
“You're so much quicker than the GT cars you have to commit. I hit the wall quite hard. That was not so nice. I think we had a very good car to fight the Rebellions.”
From there, the car went back to the paddock on a flatbed and Luhr joined the repair efforts on his own, amidst a throng of fans and onlookers outside the team's setup.
“You don't want to know what went through my mind at that point! I had some bad words!” he joked, possibly referring to his earlier one-word outburst on the live ESPN3 online broadcast. “I had communication on the radio with Brandon, ‘This is broken.' The guys went to build repair parts. I was very confident that when we came back to the pits, we'd get back out. The way the boys acted, the way they stuck together, getting the car back out was absolutely awesome. I'm very proud that we could stick together.
Graf took over when the car came back to the pits. Several additional repairs took place, including on the suspension and needing to reset it. Graf was in the car when the team hit the 70 percent mark of 277 completed laps.
“You're relieved, but the conditions were getting more and more difficult,” he said. “The conditions didn't get easier. You still have to make sure you drive the car. I tried not to think about the championship too much all race. We won a lot of races and we'll sit down with Greg and have a sip of something.”
Pickett declared at last year's ALMS championship banquet that the team would not only be back stronger in 2012, but would deliver a championship.
“Yeah, it feels really well. It was the goal we set out to accomplish, and we did just that,” he surmised.
There's no rest for the weary as the team is set to test out new 2013 updates in Austin's Circuit of the Americas in December, primarily aero related. For now, they can take solace in the comfort of their first ALMS title.